Nova Scotia

'These are real people': With COVID deaths well above the norm, N.S. seniors share concerns

Almost three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of Nova Scotia's 753 COVID-19 deaths have been seniors. Some seniors are concerned not enough awareness is being brought to the state of the pandemic.

Nova Scotians 70 and older have a death rate from COVID-19 that is 280 times higher than those under 50

A close-up shot of a woman wearing glasses.
Judy Aymar, 76, is a retired social worker who worked in long-term care and health care. She's concerned COVID-19 deaths are now being looked at as statistics. (Submitted by Judy Aymar)

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingered and the death toll increased, Nova Scotian Judy Aymar noticed how the province's leaders no longer offered condolences when new deaths were announced.

"These are real people," she said. "These are people who at one point in their lives, they built families, they built communities and they helped build the province. Why have they become a statistic and not a person?"

The province's COVID-19 briefings once started with updates on how many people had died and would include condolences from the premier and chief medical officer of health.

But briefings have been discontinued. Updates on the state of the pandemic now come from a weekly update to the province's COVID-19 dashboard, as well as monthly epidemiology reports.

The province says 753 people have died from COVID-19 — including 27 that were announced Thursday. The median age of death during the Omicron wave is 84.

Aymar, a 76-year-old retired social worker from Upper Tantallon, said Nova Scotians pride themselves on helping and supporting people during times of loss.

But she's worried.

"Why have we, as Nova Scotians, accepted this silence?" said Aymar. "Why are we so silent that seniors are still dying and why aren't we giving them dignity and acknowledgement and a thank you for all that they did?"

Higher COVID death rates for seniors

According to the province's January epidemiology report, Nova Scotians 70 and older have a death rate from COVID-19 that is 280 times higher than those under 50.

Aymar said she thinks the province should have a day of acknowledgement — not a holiday — to pay tribute to people who have died from COVID-19 and the contributions they made.

Top doctor provides condolences

In a statement from the province Sunday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said Public Health reminds people to be careful of their social activities and recommends people wear masks in crowded indoor spaces.

If people are coming into close contact with people who face a higher risk of severe illness, he urged people to "do your part" and wear a mask.

"I wish to extend my condolences to every single person who has lost a loved one as a result of COVID-19," said Strang.

"We know that the elderly and people who are immunocompromised are at the greatest risk of hospitalization and death, which is why it is so important for Nova Scotians to collectively continue to do the right thing to keep others safe."

Strang said if people who are sick have to go out, they need to wear a mask and should not visit anyone who is elderly, immunocompromised or is a young child.

With COVID-19 restrictions lifted in Nova Scotia, seniors are particularly vulnerable, said Robert Huish, an associate professor at Dalhousie University whose expertise includes global health ethics.

A man in a blue shirt and tie under a dark wool coat and scarf is seen standing outside, with university campus buildings in soft focus behind him.
Robert Huish is a professor in the department of international development studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He says the public health approach toward managing the pandemic has shifted from collective responsibility to individual choice. (Steve Lawerence/CBC)

"It's almost full reliance on the vaccine and on people's own willingness to mask up or choose to stay at home, so it's moved from that collective duty to individual choice and responsibility," he said.

Huish said fatigue sets in with public health campaigns, and it's reached that point with COVID-19.

"It moves to, 'Me, well, I got to take care of myself,' and not to worry about other people, even though just a short time ago that's all we were worried about," he said.

Bill VanGorder, the senior Nova Scotia spokesperson for CARP — formerly the Canadian Association of Retired Persons— said his organization remains concerned.

"COVID-19 is not over," he said.

VanGorder said the group recommends masking in public settings, but said "we are hearing from older people that somehow they feel like they are being stigmatized a bit by wearing masks."

Bill VanGorder, CARP's senior Nova Scotia spokesperson, would like the province to get more information into the hands of seniors about the state of the pandemic. (Robert Short/CBC)

He'd like for the province to increase its messaging around COVID-19 and for the media to do more reporting on the pandemic.

VanGorder said when COVID-19 was in the headlines daily, it created "huge stress and anxiety" for a lot of older people.

According to Nova Scotia's January COVID-19 epidemiology report, Nova Scotians 70 and older have been hospitalized at almost 19 times the rate of people who are 18 to 49. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"That wasn't a good thing either, but now … we seem to have gone the other way and we're not hearing as much about it as we used to, so there's got to be a happy medium in there somewhere," he said.

VanGorder said the province could get more information in the hands of seniors through the Seniors Advisory Council of Nova Scotia, which represents more than 100,000 older Nova Scotians.

In Sunday's statement, the province said the Health and Wellness Department has been actively communicating with Nova Scotians about the importance of staying up to date on COVID-19 and influenza vaccines.

Since September, it has produced radio ads, print ads in daily, weekly and monthly outlets, social media posts, as well as ads on Spotify and Access Nova Scotia screens.


Richard Woodbury is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team. He can be reached at

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